18 posts categorized "Political History"

October 17, 2023

THE DAMNED — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comThe first of Luchino Visconti's "German Trilogy" of films (which includes "Death in Venice" and "Ludwig") is set in high society Germany during the early '30s. The Essenbecks — an industrialist family modeled after the Krupp family's steel production company — are brought down and consolidated into the Nazi war machine after the infamous Reichstag fire in Berlin on February 27, 1933.

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Hitler used the arsonist attack as an excuse to suspend civil liberties for the German people and assassinate his communist rivals. Liberties, such as habeas corpus, freedom of the press, and “secrecy of the post and telephone,” remained in place throughout Hitler’s reign, which ended in April of 1945.

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Members of the SS murder the Essenbecks's anti-Nazi patriarch Baron Joachim (Albrecht Schoenhals). Investigators photograph his bloody body resting on the opulent bed that once provided comfort. The political assassination sets into motion the collapse of the Essenbeck family, an aristocratic representation of an “old” Germany that Hitler sought to obliterate.

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As with “The Leopard,” Visconti is fascinated with the trappings of aristocracy, and their impermanent nature under the threat of fascist ideologies. All riches are temporary.     

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The company's like-minded vice president Herbert Thallmann (Umberto Orsini) is falsely indicted for Joachim’s murder before escaping from Gestapo forces that incarcerate his wife (Charlotte Rampling), and children at the Dachau concentration camp. It wasn’t only Jews who were sent to the camps. The family’s industrial empire slips into the cunning hands of Dirk Bogarde’s anti-hero Friedrich Bruckmann, a shortsighted opportunist mentored by SS officer Aschenbach (Helmut Grien), himself a would-be thief looking to co-opt the Essenbeck fortune and status.

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Visconti stylishly captures the frenzied debauchery and violence that the Nazis employed throughout the era, including the Night of the Long Knives wherein Hitler's execution squads massacred his political enemies — the paramilitary Brownshirts known as the SA.

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Written by Visonti, with Enrico Medioli and Nicola Badalucco, "The Damned" is an incendiary precursor to Nazi-era films like Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter" (1974), Tinto Brass's pornographic "Salon Kitty" (1976), and even the musical play and film "Cabaret."

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By boldly confronting the psycho-sexual depravity of the Nazi mindset all the way through to is inevitable incestuous nature, Visconti creates a specific cinematic vernacular for viewing and discussing Hitler's manic ideology.

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That Visconti's iconic vision became a cinematic touchstone for other influential filmmakers is a testament to the Italian director's lasting power as a storyteller and as an important conduit of historical information.   

Rated R. 156 mins.

5 Stars SF SHOCKTOBER!Cozy Cole

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January 22, 2021

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

ColeSmithey.comGroupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Trial_of_the_chicago_sevenGlib. Forgettable. Writer/director Aaron Sorkin gets out his arsenal of narrative formula templates to simplify an otherwise complex story of ‘60s era political theater. The effect is entertaining up to a point before it hits you that Robert Altman would have been much better at telling the story at hand if he were still alive. Hell, Oliver Stone would have done a better job.

The trial in question arose from the actions of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film’s ensemble of actors (Yaha Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon, Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, and John Carroll Lynch) give credible performances that come across as an afterthought in the context of Sorkin’s heavy hand.

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Courtroom dramas are a notoriously prickly genre to begin with. This one finds Aaron Sorkin falling on his own sword. The movie plays more as a showpiece of Hollywood machinery than as a filmic document of a crisis of ideologies at a time when it seemed that the People might get a leg up on the corruption at the heart of the American war machine. As if such a thing could be possible.

Chicago 7

From a technical standpoint, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is serviceable but Sorkin’s knee-jerk quick-cutting crutch wears out its welcome. Aaron Sorkin’s motivations for making the movie in our current political climate seems like a foregone conclusion. Nothing has the emotional weight it purports to possess even if the actors are compelling in their roles as voices of dissent. The problem is that Sorkin wants so badly to deliver a feel-good movie that he misses all of the heartbreak inflicted on the accused activists who never agreed on anything. This is a Cheese Whiz movie for 12-year-olds, not for adults.  

Chicago 7

Rated R. 129 mins.

Two Stars

Cozy Cole

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January 19, 2021

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

ColeSmithey.comGroupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comBarnburner.

It speaks volumes that the two best films of 2020 were based on plays (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night In Miami”). Both films directly address the Black experience in America, albeit at different cataclysmic moments in the country’s history.

Kemp Powers’s deep-dive 2013 play of the same title (“One Night In Miami” provides director Regina King with plenty of thematic substance to bring Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) to radiant life. King’s flawless direction is as the precise as the on-point performances of her talented actors.   

Onenightinmiami

I’m guessing that Regina King spent an extensive rehearsal period with her actors, considering how exquisitely each man fulfills the speech patterns and mannerisms of towering historic figures whose social influence continues to inspire people the world over. I can’t say enough good things about the sublime work that Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. perform in “One Night In Miami.” Truly great acting all around. Kudos to this amazing ensemble.

One_night_in_miami

The set-up is a fictionalized meeting in 1964 between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke at Miami’s Hampton House hotel, the only segregated hotel of the Civil Rights era still standing today. The contentious conversations that follow give insight to each pivotal Black leader’s psyche and ways of navigating an openly racist country that treats each man with suspicion. The film’s elegiac tableau hits all the right grace notes, supplied by Sam Cooke. You’ll feel the feeling right down to your toes.

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Rated R. 114 mins.

5 StarsModern Cole

Cozy Cole

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